Horning: Nobody wears it like Alex Grinch, but will his unit respond?

Kyle Phillips | CNHI

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch during the Sooners’ game against Nebraska, Saturday, Sept. 18 at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. That afternoon brought a fine performance from the Sooner defense. For the first time in five weeks OU’s looking for another one.

If Oklahoma football were a John Lennon song, it would be “Starting Over,” because that’s every Saturday for the Sooners and this is another one.

Tulane marked another second-half collapse, so everybody waited for what’s next.

Next was a beautiful mirage against Western Carolina folks covered and wrote about yet knew what to make of it, as it was somewhere between nothing and almost nothing.

Then Nebraska, a four-quarter offensive catastrophe; then West Virginia, a worse version of the Husker victory.

That left OU to begin again at Kansas State, only for the offense to pick up and the defense let down.


If the Sooners weren’t starting over at the kick, they were the moment Caleb Williams took over at quarterback.

A new era began against TCU, Williams in for Spencer Rattler for good, and it felt like a real beginning. Certainly, the defense’s failings would not be repeated, Kanas was next for crying out loud.

Almost suffering the worst loss in OU athletic history since Billy Tubbs’ first basketball team fell to non-scholarship Ohio Northern, the Sooners went splat in Lawrence only to be saved all over again by a 19-year-old quarterback who began the season on the bench.

Today, against Texas Tech, the Sooners begin again — again — not because they’ve returned to bad habits perpetrated against Tulane, Nebraska and West Virginia, but because they’ve returned to bad habits perpetrated against Texas Tech (in 2016), Oklahoma State (in 2017) and Texas (in 2018).

If the unit defensive coordinator Alex Grinch coordinates isn’t much to watch, and it hasn’t been the last two weeks, it’s still a hoot to listen to him talk about, because nobody falls on their sword like Grinch.

“You get the outcome, but you don’t get the how and the standard in terms of how you played,” Grinch said this week. “If you’re a competitor at all, I think your motivation should come the following week, the following Monday, Tuesday and so forth. It should be cranked up to another level. I don’t think I’ve seen that in the last couple of weeks.”

Can he not reach them?

He’s convinced he’s not.

“How am I not landing the message,” he said. “It’s all of our faults, cool, but I’m the one talking, so it’s my fault. It’s my fault that I can’t inspire and motivate to get guys to play at their best.

“Obviously, you teach scheme. The scheme is installed with adjustments over the course of each individual week. But the chief job as a coach is to inspire and motivate guys to play at an elite level and and I continue to fail to do that as the defensive coordinator.”

The best possible outcome, of course, is that his unit responds to his challenge, to the cross he’s bearing so heavily. But should it not, you have to love a coach willing to own it and wear it.

For Grinch, it’s all about preparation.

“Are we getting TFL’s in practice,” he said, referencing tackles for losses. “If not, why? Is it effort? Is that one of the things [to] really challenge the group on and some of this comes with having such experienced players. Are you taking autopilot reps?

“That’s the term we use … ‘I know these stunts so well. I know my gap so well. I know my responsibility.’ It just becomes a redundancy … What I’ve seen from film is there is a lack of respect of ‘I know where I need to be.’”

Surely, there must be at least one good sign that’s happening.

“I thought there was more intentional work today,” said Grinch, who did his talking on Tuesday, practice having already occurred. “It pains me to say that nine weeks into the season, we’re finally seeing more intentional work.”

So maybe that’s something.

Yet, to be sure it’s just like starting over.


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